Thermal Aluminum & Glass Ltd.
Shay Hanratty founded Thermal Aluminum & Glass Ltd. (TAG), a Calgary-based commercial and residential window design and installation business, in 2009 after working in the industry for 12 years.
“I went to school at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology,” Hanratty explains. “Between my first and second years, I worked for a residential window manufacturer. About eight months after graduation, I got a job with the same company in their quality control department and quickly moved up to the glass shop foreman and manager. I was there for three years, moved to another company for another three years. The final residential stop was at Lux Windows, which was a great job and a great company and I ended my career there as the operations manager to start my own commercial window company.”
Hanratty explains that he pursued commercial windows because there seemed to be a market for a customer service-driven company. “There appears to be a surplus of residential companies, but there could definitely be more good commercial outfits with capable installers,” he continues. “The appeal of the window industry is the technical and architectural aspect. Opposed to just being a hidden technical entity, there is the visual aspect of glass and windows that takes on a large role. I enjoy the design and architectural aspect of that.”
Hanratty and his team are consistently working to maintain focus on each TAG customer. While Hanratty acknowledges that service is important, he explains that offering it is not always the easy route.
“Pretty much all of our projects are based on quoting,” Hanratty explains. “We either get leads from faxes or emails that just come in from being on contractors bidders’ lists, or sometimes through word-of-mouth. Even through word-of-mouth, however, this is a pretty price-sensitive industry. There are always competitive quotes going around and a great relationship never means you can secure the job. This makes it challenging to provide great service, because you have to be competitive with price. Most people are not willing to pay more, even if that means going with a contractor that is less qualified and less attentive.”
Once a contract is awarded, the crew jumps into action. Hanratty is proud to note that three of the company’s four office staffers have auto-CAD capabilities. To ensure each customer receives high-quality service, TAG contracts designers when the team has too much on its plate.
“At that point, our clients review and approve our drawings,” Hanratty continues. “Depending on the project schedule, we get ready to place our materials orders. Generally on the commercial side, we use whatever materials they specify. On the residential end of the business, I am often asked for my opinion. That’s part of what keeps me really interested in this business. I like being involved in the drawing stage so I can provide insight to what will work best technically and ascetically while maintaining the budget.”
According to Hanratty, TAG has been selling a lot of Alumicor 2600 series aluminum, which is a high performance commercial curtain wall system. “It works well in homes because of the high performance aspect and the flexibility on what can be achieved with it,” he says. “Another great product line that we are a dealer for is Fleetwood Windows. They manufacture luxury aluminum window systems for residential use. One item they sell that I offer is a multi-slide door system, which can achieve openings pretty much as wide as the imagination can take them. We have done up to 24 feet wide by 12 feet tall patio doors with their products. These are great for the high-end market or restaurant and bar market.”
The TAG team embodies a broad range of experience. From high end-homes to corporate office buildings, Hanratty and his crew are prepared to offer a variety of design and technical solutions. The company has a growing portfolio of both large and small projects utilizing high-tech materials and architectural aesthetics. The company’s recent projects include two high-end homes and an ongoing contract with Great Eagle Casino, which will have the crew busy well into 2014.
“One of the most challenging projects we did was the Southridge Emergency Services building in Okotoks,” Hanratty elaborates. “It was a great design but there were a lot of details missing and we included in our scope some aluminum paneling, that from the drawings appeared somewhat simple, but turned out to be over three months of work. Most of that time we had my two most experienced guys on a man lift. It has been a lesson that although aluminum panels and architectural features are inexpensive to buy, they are always a lot more time-consuming then I initially think. I have been taught this lesson a few times now.”
A Strong Team
Hanratty is highly involved in the business, although that is changing as his leadership role shifts with company growth. “I am a project manager for the more difficult projects and will assist the others with the other projects on an as-needed basis,” he explains. “I do most of the site measuring, some of the shop drawings and on really rare occasions some installations. We have grown to the size now where I need to have a hand on the business. I try and remove myself more and more from the daily operations and just oversee things. I like to have control of the complicated residential projects because generally the architects I work with are very particular and want things to line up perfectly here and there so it is a lot of hands on work, which is often meticulous.”
Fortunately, for everything else he has a great team. Therefore, Hanratty measures his success by the happiness of customers and employees. A high level of service and open lines of communication keep customers satisfied, while internally, Hanratty offers rewards and incentives for his 22 employees.
“I try and maintain a casual atmosphere with flexibility and enjoyment for the staff,” he explains. “We try and do outings, which have included go carting, golfing, Frisbee golfing and other activities. I am hoping to complete an employee lounge this winter, as well, for somewhere to relax and have some team building fun. We pay at the industry standard, but also include some bonuses when times are good. TAG is an open-door atmosphere and I like to think anyone can come talk to me with requests or concerns and that they feel comfortable doing so.”
Especially in Alberta’s current economic environment, staff can present a major challenge for contractors. Although he is satisfied with his current team, Hanratty has had a hard time finding additional qualified employees to supplement growth. “It is difficult to find individuals who can take the initiative to think outside the box and solve the complex problems required on-site as they proceed with the installation,” he explains.
Despite industry challenges, the company is growing. In 2014, TAG will celebrate five years in business. Hanratty and his team continue to put customers first, offering the kind of service that earns a contractor a good reputation. Through word-of-mouth referral and positive testimony, Thermal Aluminum & Glass Ltd. continues to leave an impact on the commercial and residential windows market in Alberta and beyond.